Â Â Â This past fall my fifth graders video-conferenced with Mr. Mayoâ€™s eighth graders in Maryland. He wanted an authentic audience to give his students feed back on some â€œmoral storiesâ€ his students had written and produced into 3 minute videos.
Â Â Â My students, most of whom are second language learners, watched and critiqued them and did their best to articulate what they liked about them and what the message or â€œmoral of the storyâ€ was. I jumped at the opportunity to put my students in an uncomfortable position of using English correctly and as articulately as possible. They donâ€™t come across those opportunities very often outside of their comfort zone with their teachers â€¦ and these kids were not only strangers, but eighth graders â€¦ â€œbig kids.â€Â Â
Â Â Â But why my students almost 3,000 miles away in Nevada? There is an elementary school next door to Mr. Mayoâ€™s school. Why not just make a connection with those students?
Â Â Â I bet you can figure it out. â€¦ Thatâ€™s right â€¦ Itâ€™s the coolness factor. Why talk to students next door when you can use cool technology tools to share with students as far away as possible â€¦ the further the better â€¦ that makes it cooler. As Matthew Tabor noted recently:
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Â Â Â Except the coolness factor wasnâ€™t really the reason we were asked to participate. Mr. Mayo was new to this Skype thing and he knew we had experience with it â€¦ and at the time he didnâ€™t know of too many other classrooms that did, so he contacted us.
Â Â Â But the telling part came towards the end of our conference when he shared that they had tried to set up a time with the elementary school next door, but because of their schedules they hadnâ€™t been able to find a time they could coordinate. It was easier to meet with us BECAUSE of the time difference and our flexibility than it was with the students next door â€¦Â and both classroomsâ€™ students learned from the experience.
Â Â Â Lisa Parisiâ€™s 5th graders on Long Island are deep into a writing project with us right now. Lisaâ€™s students also have better English grammar skills than my students and come from not only another area of the country, but a different culture too. Because my students had to truly collaborate with hers in writing their stories they had to learn vocabulary and usage that really stretched them (and Lisaâ€™s kids often had to find the right words to explain the meaning to mine).
Â Â Â Â Now because this is THEIR story too, they WANT to understand the vocabulary and subtle and not so subtle meanings behind the words and phrases. Since they will be reading these stories orally to their classmates and practice proper pronunciation and fluency in speaking, they will have had experiences with reading, vocabulary, comprehension, oral expression, all aspects of writing and more â€¦ and were (and are) highly motivated to do so.
Â Â Â To be fair I could easily have linked up here locally and paid $80 for a field trip bus and visited my wifeâ€™s school and done the same thing live with students there face to face … but we met numerous times â€¦ and it was free â€¦ doing the same locally to meet face to face would have cost hundreds of dollars â€¦ Hmmm.
Â Â Â Lisa and I, and I â€˜m sure at least a few of the other 12 teachers involved with this project, have written about our experiences and made other teachers aware of the whys and wherefores of our project. I wonder if other teachers smarter than us will see a much different, even more valuable use of video-conferencing and online applications such as Google Docs?
Â Â Â I just finished teaching a class here in the Reno area to teachers about using technology and field trips to augment writing instruction. They even had the privilege of having Lisa “Skype” into class to help explain our project and demonstrate video-conferencing. Each piece I showed them and had them dabble in â€¦ Flickr, wikis, blogs and so on dazzled them and piqued their interest.
Â Â Â But something was different about this groupâ€™s reaction to the technology. They loved it, but they saw something else more important. The tools they saw were the easy part. The tools have been made easy to use, ubiquitous. The questions they started asking were about how do you make the connections with all the different people your students work with? â€œHow do you do THAT!?” They saw the value of making connections all over the world without having to charter a bus or a plane (although I would rather do that … “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?”).
Â Â Â I guess it has become â€œThe Networkâ€ that is important.
Learning is messy!